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‘I don’t have time’



By Tom Southworth



Published November 18, 2011
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The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: I did not have time.
– Franklin Field

Over and over, after running through a problem solving session or providing training on proper job instruction, I’ll hear, “It sounds great and I think it will work, but we don’t have the time,” or something like that. Despite overwhelming evidence, including actual demonstration of the new method or technique, company executives retreat behind the well worn excuse of being too busy to make any real change. Well, if the new method or technique sounds great and it does work, then why aren’t you doing it? If it’s because you claim that you don’t have the time, then I have to ask: What on earth are you spending your time on?

Some of you are wondering who the heck am I, casting even a shadow of a doubt on what you do with your time.  “Who does he think he is? What does he know about what I do?” As it turns out, I know a lot more than most outside observers because, you see, I’m one of you. I’ve run small, independent shops with 20 employees, and large, corporate, 24/7 operations with as many as 200. As the expression goes, I’ve “been there, done that.”


It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?
– Henry David Thoreau

Back in my plant manager days, I once had a colleague call me “the world’s most expensive customer service rep.” I was spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone with irate clients, sales managers and sales representatives, playing Three Card Monte with the day’s production schedule. He was right – I was the world’s most expensive customer service rep because I wasn’t doing my job of being a plant manager, which was to lead the plant.

When I look back at that period in my career I can now see so many things that I had been doing wrong: all of the tasks and activities – the daily grind – that I had thought amounted to time well spent but were, instead, a complete waste of my time. I was running around fighting fires and trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to prevent conflagrations. I was “busy about” all of the wrong things but thinking that, because I was busy, I was doing my job. What I didn’t realize, though, was that I was constantly extinguishing the same fires, day in and day out. I suspect that most of you are doing much the same and, like me, doing so without realizing it. In other words, you’ve become me – the world’s most expensive customer service rep.


In truth, people can generally make time for what they choose to do; it is not really the time but the will that is lacking.
– Sir John Lubbock

We have plenty of time for continuous improvement; we just don’t make the effort to use our time wisely. Instead, we spend our time running (sometimes actually running) from emergency to emergency and then we tell ourselves that we’ve done all that we can to fix whatever the emergency was because we’ve spent so much time on it. We’re kidding ourselves, even deluding ourselves, into thinking that way because we just don’t have the will to confront the real challenges that our jobs require us to confront each and every day. We shouldn’t be focused on firefighting; we should be making our facilities and our processes fire proof.  We shouldn’t swoop in like Superman to save the day but, rather, we should be teaching others the requisite skills to prevent Gotham from falling apart.

Our roles as leaders shouldn’t be cleaning up the mess that’s left behind in the wake of the SS Disaster. Our role should be to steer our ship and to lead our crew to the next port of call and beyond. If we’re always in the engine room making stop-gap repairs to keep the ship sputtering along, we’ll never be able to see where the ship is headed, and we’ll likely run aground. We think we’re the Skipper, but we’re really Gilligan, fumbling our way from chaos to catastrophe.

We’ve all seen or heard some variation of the expression, “There’s never time to do it right, but plenty of time to do it over.”  We all think that it pertains solely to quality of our products but it pertains to the quality of our time, too. We all get frustrated, even angry, over the wasted time (and material) when something that we’ve produced gets rejected, but we never seem to get upset over the time that we waste on everything else.

How many times have you become frustrated or upset that a meeting doesn’t start or finish on time? Well, did you spend your pre-meeting time wisely and properly plan for this meeting? Probably not so, once again, the fault lies how you chose to spend your time (not) planning for the meeting.

Have you ever walked around your facility and became frustrated or angry over how much inventory you have, thinking of all of the cash that’s tied up in that inventory? Why is that inventory there? Who purchased that much raw materials or ran that much product? Who took the time to plan out how much was really needed? My guess is that no one did. Do you control your inventory or does it control you? If you’re not spending any time planning your inventories, your ins and outs, then your inventories are controlling you.

And what about the wasted time and material when something was produced and then rejected? Did you spend any time uncovering the real root cause or did you, like most, knee-jerk react into the stratosphere and blame the operator, supervisor, quality control department, the sun, the moon and the stars? Does the operator who ran the material really know what to do? Again, I suspect not, because most operators are poorly trained before they’re thrown into the fire. And why are they poorly trained? Wait for it. Wait for it. Yup, you guessed it. You don’t have the time!


You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
– Charles Bixton

Your time is yours to do what you want. If you’re not spending your time doing the right things right and, instead, choose to fight fires instead of preventing them, then the responsibility for the conflagration that ensues rests entirely with you.

Make the time. It will be well worth the investment.



Tom Southworth is a Lean consultant with CONNSTEP, Connecticut’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. He is a Senior Member of ASQ, an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality & Organizational Excellence, a senior member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, SME Lean Bronze Certified, and a certified TWI Job Instruction and Job Relations Trainer. He can be reached by email at tsouthworth@connstep.org.


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